Edition #13: Distance Makes the Dollar Grow Stronger


written by oz chen

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Hey there, money you manage like Yoda.

  • Last week, I went deep covering Coinbase
  • Today, I cover the role of psychological distance in investing, Michelle Obama’s podcast, 23andMe, and why everyone should try a fintech.

Distance Makes the Dollar Grow Stronger

Between 1977-1990, Peter Lynch returned an astounding 27% for Fidelity’s Magellan Fund. You’d think investors in this fund would’ve received the same gains, but the opposite happened: most of them lost money. How could that be?

Investors touched their money too much, jumping in and out of the fund. In other words, they bought high and sold low.

Had they just kept some distance from their money, they might have been less emotionally reactive to the market—and benefited from Lynch’s golden touch. In a similar vein, maybe that’s why index funds outperform actively managed funds.

This is easier said than done, of course. I don’t need to reference any studies to convince you that long term thinking is harder than short term thinking.

Playing with the psychological distance we feel towards our money can unlock good habits and block bad ones. Here’s some supporting research:

“Psychologically closer representations of money increase its perceived value” (study)

  • In English: You’re less likely to spend if money feels tangible (cash vs credit).
  • As an investor: I try to make each investment decision feel more real with opportunity costs. “Would I trade my existing stock for some of this new shiny stock?”

“When making decisions with increasing social distance, investors’ preferences will be less emotionally driven” (study)

  • In English: People make riskier decisions when investing for themselves than for others
  • As an investor: I try to imagine myself as the “capital allocator” of my life, and try to benefit my separate, future Oz.

People struggle to save for retirement because they feel like it’s too far away. Closing that psychological distance a la software-generated images of old selves led people to increase their retirement contributions.

Admittedly, I’m more primed to think of my 401k as a bucket for 65 year old Oz than I am with my Robinhood money.

For that reason, I try to hedge against my more emotional self with a separate bucket of boring investments: Cash, bonds and index funds. It helps that retirement accounts have a tax penalty against early withdrawals, which provides extra distance from touching my investments.

I showed up to my writing workshop group with a half baked article that included 3 separate ideas. Shout out to #ketchupcrew for calling this out. Expect more articles on the abstraction of money in the future.

🎞 “Hey dad, are we rich?”

My girlfriend showed me a podcast with Michelle Obama interviewing her brother Craig Robinson. About 16 minutes in, Craig tells a story about how their father handled the question: “are we rich?”

He laid out his his paycheck in cash, then proceeded to count how much goes to rent, bills, and groceries.
Then he made it a point to pay himself first by taking $20 and putting that into savings.

It’s a wonderful education for a kid to see real life finances like that.

💬 Quote of the week

The trick is not to learn to trust your gut feelings, but rather to discipline yourself to ignore them.

Peter Lynch, investing legend

💼 Portfolio updates

There’s been a small dip in crypto. I see no underlying change to the fundamentals, so I picked up Bitcoin & Ethereum at a 8-10% discount.

🧬 Stock I’m looking into: 23andMe (VGAC)

This SPAC just announced a merger with DNA testing company 23andMe. I’ve never gotten a test from them (considering now), but several friends have. VGAC is still hovering around $10, near its initial price and net asset value.

Do you think 23andMe is a solid business and has room for growth? I’m learning towards yes, but still early in research. Let me know if you follow this company or think their product rocks/sucks.

Note: I still haven’t done anything about last week’s comment regarding on bonds and dividend stocks. I’m going to slow down my thinking here and do more research.

💸  Money Tip of the Week: Fintech = Free

Fintech companies are waging war with each other, spending vast amounts of money to be “one account that rules them all” for you.

The good news? Competition drives fees to zero. There’s just no reason to pay exorbitant overdraft fees or deal with account minimums when plenty of fintech startups are offering this for free. Check these out:

Even though these are “neobanks,” they are mature technology companies that won’t go under any time soon, and are constant innovating on new features. 

Tip: many consumers open up a separate checking account to help with budgeting, e.g. specifying an account just to pay for subscriptions or travel. Secondary accounts can even be used to avoid fraud if you don’t want your main pot of money at risk.

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